Syllabus for PHY 252

Fall 2010



Laboratories will begin on September 1, 2010 and run through December 10, 2010. There will be 11 experiments, two of which are lab practical exams, plus two assessment tests. There is no lab during Thanksgiving week. The purpose of this course is to teach you how to make measurements of physical quantities and how to analyze and interpret them. Working in groups of two, you will make measurements, tabulate and graph your data, evaluate uncertainties in your measurements, analyze the results of your experiments, and answer the questions for each experiment given in the laboratory manual. Two of these experiments will be practical labs in which you will work alone. At least two times during the course you will change to a new lab partner.


You will find it very helpful to prepare well, i.e. read and study the materials for the laboratories before you come to class. Being prepared before you come to your lab session will enable you to finish on time, enjoy the lab more and help you get a higher grade. During the first 5 minutes of every lab period an open book quiz will be given aimed at testing your readiness to perform that day's experiment. Make sure you have read the instructions for each experiment before you arrive at class. Please arrive on time or you will miss the quiz and the credit. All the materials to be graded (your lab report including data sheets, graphs, answers to questions) must be completed during your lab period and handed in to the instructor before you leave the lab.


The lab report consists of a data sheet in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, formula view of the Excel spreadsheet, graphs with comments and answers to questions. Write your name, your student number, lab partner's name and section number on this data sheet.


Lab practical exams are short labs completed by students individually. During practical labs no outside notes, calculators or discussions with other students are allowed. After the last session of the experiment preceeding each practical lab has finished, the experimental write-up will be available on the course website (i.e. after experiment 5 for lab practical exam 1 and experiment 10 for lab practical exam 2). During the practical lab, you will be given a copy of the experimental write-up to use. The practical lab will be based on one or more of the experiments that you have already completed. It could consist of measuring and analyzing data, analyzing a prepared set of data and answering questions. The time limit on the practical lab will be 45 minutes.


Each lab will be graded by your instructor on a 20 point scale, two points of which will be for the quiz. Your lab report will be handed back at the beginning of the next lab. Your final grade will be based on the total number of points during the semester, dropping the lab with the lowest score. Since the instructors for the various sections do not necessarily grade identically, the scores for a given instructor's sections will be considered as a group for grading purposes. Each of the groups will receive approximately the same average grade in the course, so that there is no advantage to having one instructor rather than another. Within the group, grades will be assigned strictly in order of points achieved. The grade will be assigned by a curve, not a "straight scale". In the past, the average for the course was about 2.6. Please save your graded lab reports and quizzes because you will need all of these if, at the end of the semester, you think your score wasn't correctly calculated.


Personally participating in each laboratory is the essential part of this course and you must be present for each session. Should you find yourself in a position where you must miss a session, you must inform your instructor beforehand and provide an explanatory note with suitable documentation. Make-up labs are limited to attending another section during the same week (while the experiment you missed is set up). Most sections are full and make-up labs are limited. You should make arrangements with your ownl lab instructor who can check for space in another section. Your lab instructor will also contact the TA for the other section. If you miss a lab for an unanticipated reason, such as illness, you must notify your instructor no later than 24 hours after the missed lab and provide suitable documentation (i.e. a note from your MD). To ease the burden on students who miss a lab due to a legitimate reason, we will drop the lowest lab score of the semester before computing your grade (a practical lab can be used for this dropped lab).

Plagiarism or copying will not be tolerated. Plagiarism or copying will not be tolerated. Lab partners are expected to turn in copies of the same Excel data sheets and graphs. Answers to the questions, however, are not to be copied, word for word, from the course pack material or from another student. Also, lab partners turning in identical or slightly modified versions for the answers to questions, will BOTH receive a zero for that lab. Please review MSU's policy on Academic Integrity, included below:

Academic Integrity:
The principles of truth and honesty are recognized as fundamental to a community of teachers and scholars. The University expects that both faculty and students will honor these principles and in so doing protect the validity of University grades. This means that all academic work will be done by the student to whom it is assigned, without unauthorized aid of any kind. (See General Student Regulation 1.00, Scholarship and Grades, for specific regulations.) Instructors, for their part, will exercise care in the planning and supervision of academic work, so that honest effort will be positively encouraged. If any instance of academic dishonesty is discovered by an instructor, it is his or her responsibility to take appropriate action Depending on his or her judgment of the particular case, he or she may give a failing grade to the student on the assignment or for the course. In instances where a failing grade in a course is given only for academic dishonesty, the instructor will notify the student's academic dean in writing of the circumstances. The student who receives a failing grade based on a charge of academic dishonesty may appeal a judgment made by a department, school, or a college to the University Academic Integrity Review Board. Refer to Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University. When, in the judgment of the academic dean, action other than, or in addition to, a failing grade is warranted, the dean will refer the case to the college- level hearing board which shall have original jurisdiction. In cases of ambiguous jurisdiction the appropriate judiciary will be randomly selected by the Assistant Provost from one of the three core colleges. Appeals from the judgment may be made to the University Academic Integrity Review Board. Refer to Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University. In instances of academic dishonesty where the in structor feels that action other than, or in addition to, a failing grade in the course is warranted, the instructor will report the case to his or her departmental or school chairperson and to the student's academic dean. The dean will then refer the case to the College-level hearing board which shall have original jurisdiction Refer to Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University.


Attendance in the lab is mandatory and there will be a penalty for arriving late to class. Two points will be removed from the Lab score for every five minutes that a student is tardy in coming to the lab. In addition, those arriving late to class will not be allowed to benefit from the work of students who arrive on time (i.e. joining a group who started the experiment on time will not be permitted). To account for the difference in clocks, you should try to arrive early to the class.


Bring a flash memory USB stick to each lab so that you can save your files as you work. There is no space on the computers in the lab for your files.
SAVE YOUR DATA OFTEN!!! There are no student data back-ups and all student data is deleted after the laboratory period ends. If something happens to the lab computer and it loses your data then you will need to start the experiment over again.
All the necessary computer software and spreadsheets will be on the computer when you start, so you should not have to search for items.
No food or drinks of any kind are allowed in the laboratories. No exceptions.
You must purchase a new laboratory manual from the Spartan bookstore. Do not use old versions of the laboratory manual as there have been significant changes to the material.

Your lab instructor (TA) is in charge of all aspects of laboratory procedures. Please confer with her/him if you have a problem, since they can ordinarily solve most problems. Communications regarding the day-to-day operations of your section should be directed to your TA, NOT the lab coordinator (ie: a missed lab, etc.).

The laboratory coordinator for this course is Professor Schwienhorst. His office hours are by appointment only and will be in room 3241 BPS. Please send an e-mail to Professor Schwienhorst at schwier AT and include a phone number and a copy of your academic schedule in order to set up a meeting at a mutually convenient time.


Whenever your lab report includes a table of data from Excel, write down enough information so the reader knows where the data came from. If some of the columns include the results of a calculation performed within Excel, write down the formula next to the spreadsheet, including the values of any fixed parameters used in the formula. Also include a sample calculation showing what Excel did for one line of the spreadsheet.

Whenever your lab report includes a graph, write down what you learned from the graph, or any conclusions you made from looking at the graph. Graphs must have a title and axis labels which include the correct units.

If the results of your experiment are not what you expected and predicted, suggest why not. ("Human error" is not accepted as an explanation.)


The computers used in all physics undergraduate labs are controlled by a central server. It is your responsibility to close all applications and log-out of your computer account when you leave the laboratory.

There are five software tools you will use in the physics labs:

  1. Microsoft Excel
    This is a spreadsheet program which you use to record/store your data. An empty spreadsheet is available at the start of each lab. The program allows you to do ALL calculations on your data. This tool removes all repetitive calculations from the lab, so you can concentrate on graphing and interpreting your data. However, the spreadsheet does not do ALL the calculations for you. In order to start the calculations you must perform at least one of them by hand. After you enter the correct formula into the spreadsheet for that particular quantity, the program will do all the other calculations for you.
  2. Kaleidagraph
    This tool is a general plotting program. It takes its input from columns of data and allows you to either plot a histogram of the contents of one column and/or graph any column versus any other column. Although some of these things are possible in Excel, Kaleidagraph has a very user friendly interface for adjusting axes/labels/text/bins etc. in any of the graphs. The input for the graphs is copied/pasted from the Excel spreadsheet. Once you are satisfied with your graph (binning is correct, labels are clear, axes are labeled and have units), you should save the graph to your user space on the server or to a USB memory stick. It can then be printed separately or copied/pasted into your final lab report.
  3. Microsoft Word
    Word is used as the standard word processor for the lab.
  4. Graphing Calculator
    This is a tool very similar to a graphics calculator, but much more flexible. It allows you to graph functions in a very convenient way and even print them out.

Last update: August 10, 2010.